Oscar-Winner Mark Rylance Quits Royal Shakespeare Company over Its Oil Company Sponsorship

CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 14: Mark Rylance attends "The BFG (Le Bon Gros Geant - Le BGG)" press conference during the 69th annual Cannes Film Festival at the Palais des Festivals on May 14, 2016 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Clemens Bilan/Getty Images)
Clemens Bilan/Getty Images

Actor Mark Rylance, who won an Oscar for 2015’s Bridge of Spies, has quit the Royal Shakespeare Company because the theater accepted the sponsorship from big oil company British Petroleum (BP).

Rylance’s resignation does not immediately affect the theater as the actor has not appeared on stage there in three decades, nonetheless the very public departure is a serious issue for the company, according to Deadline.

In his resignation letter, Raylance likened the oil company to “an arms dealer.”

“I feel I must resign as I do not wish to be associated with BP any more than I would with an arms dealer, a tobacco salesmen, or any company or individual who willfully destroys the lives of others alive and unborn. Nor do I believe would William Shakespeare,” the Wolf Hall actor wrote.

The RSC’s deal with BP helps subsidize low ticket costs for students to attend the company’s productions. But that is no excuse for Rylance.

“The RSC could turn this situation on its head and give young people much more value than a cheap £5 ticket. They could give them the support of Shakespeare in their stand against our addiction to energy dealers who would willingly destroy us for a quick quid,” he added.

Rylance, winner of a BAFTA, multiple Tony awards, and other prestigious awards both in the U.S. and Britain, ended his resignation letter hopeful that others would speak out against the BP sponsorship.

“I am resigning to lend strength to the voices within the RSC who want to be progressive, and to encourage my fellow associates to express themselves too,” he wrote. “The children know the truth … In the face of addiction, tough love is the only path. It’s time for an artistic intervention.”

Rylance’s resignation comes as part of a larger protest by members of the company who are unhappy with the BP deal.

Thus far, the RSC is defending its association with the oil giant, even equating its deal to efforts to stop global warming.

RSC artistic director Gregory Doran and executive director Catherine Mallyon released a statement insisting they are “saddened” by the actor’s resignation, but also said the BP deal is “an important part” of their funding.

“We recognize the importance of a robust and engaged debate in taking these decisions, especially in the light of the acknowledged environment and climate emergency,” the RSC reps added. “It’s one of the many ways that help us to establish lifetime enthusiasts for Shakespeare and live theatre and applies to all of our productions whether in Stratford, London or on tour around the UK.”

For its part, BP reminded the public of their longtime support for the arts in the UK.

“We’ve been supporting the arts in the UK for 50 years and over that time around 50 million people have enjoyed BP-supported activities and programs,” the oil company said in a statement. “On climate, our position is very clear. We recognize the world is on an unsustainable path, more needs to be done to fix that, and the world needs to move to net zero carbon emissions in the decades to come. In addressing the climate challenge facing all of us, it is critical that everyone plays their part: individuals, governments, and companies such as BP. The answer will come through coming together, building understanding and collaborating to find real solutions rather than through further polarization and exacerbating divisions.”

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.


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